Welcome to Uzbekistan!
Peace Corps Volunteer Diego Rivera will introduce you to his host family and show you much about the family life, food, architecture, religions, and history of Uzbekistan. Map of Uzbekistan | ¿Quisiera usted mirar esto en español?
|Diego Rivera, Uzbekistan|
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Photographed, written, and narrated by returned Peace Corps Volunteer Diego Rivera.
Welcome to Uzbekistan!
Peace Corps Volunteer
This statue of Lenin used to be in the town square. Now it lies in the town garbage dump. In its place is a statue of the national poet. Since gaining independence, Uzbekistan has gone to great efforts to remove all symbols of their Communist past and yet it remains, like these apartment blocs in my town, Chirchiq.
I’m Diego Rivera, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Uzbekistan from 2001 to 2003. Here, on the left, I am wearing a chopon. The chopon’s warmth makes it feel like I’m wearing a blanket. Most Uzbeks do not don this traditional clothing, but wear contemporary, clothing like my host father here in the image.
My host family and I are celebrating Uzbek Independence day. Inside, homes are beautiful and highly decorated. Uzbeks take great pride in their homes, and my family was no exception.
During the summer, many Uzbeks eat outside, since it’s cooler than indoors. This is a typical lunch, consisting of tomato and onion salad, rice, carrots, bread, and tea. Bread can never be thrown away. To dispose of leftover bread, Uzbeks feed it to their animals or wild birds.
Some of the grandmothers in the neighborhood are enjoying a break here. Grandparents are always given the highest respect; children must follow their directions.
This is osh, the national dish. Cooked in a big metal bowl, it is made of rice, carrots, meat, and plenty of oil. This dish is rumored to have been invented by Alexander the Great during his conquests of Central Asia.
Here I am happily helping to prepare shashlik. These pieces of meat on a stick are similar to kabobs, but usually include pieces of fat that locals enjoy eating with vinegar and onions.
My host sisters are preparing comcas. These little pies are like empanadas, but are baked in a clay oven and filled with potatoes or meat.
Many families own animals such as cows in order to produce milk, cream, yogurt, and cheese. With three cows, my host family had fresh milk every morning.
This is a grape arbor, before the leaves came out in the spring. Many Uzbeks grow grapes, which they may use for making raisins or wine. But most Uzbeks just enjoying eating grapes or making dolmas, which are grape leaves stuffed with a rice mixture.
Uzbek homes are designed like forts, with rooms surrounding an open courtyard, and with large gateways like this one doubling as garage doors.
Throughout history, Uzbekistan has been known for its artists, including wood carvers. Many homes and mosques today are decorated with carved pillars.
Similarly, homes are decorated inside with this type of light fixture, with intricate patterns painted on the ceiling. This type of décor is also found inside many restaurants and government buildings.
Children are cherished by all Uzbeks and are well taken care of. Families are usually large, typically having four or five children. A popular Uzbek saying is, “A house without a child is a tomb."
This is a traditional Uzbek crib. Newborn babies are always carefully placed and wrapped in many blankets to ward off cold drafts, because Uzbeks believe cold air brings infections and germs.
Women do the laundry by hand and leave it to dry in the sun. The common belief is that if a man is seen doing his own laundry, then his wife or mother is upset with him. I was forbidden from washing my clothing.
This is the ‘Registon,’ Uzbekistan’s most famous building. Built in the 15th century, such buildings served as schools and the basis of the town square. Today, they are preserved and serve as tourist and historical attractions.
Although the home is the center of Uzbek life, the mosque, such as this one, and Islam form a cultural pillar as well. This is inside one of the mosques. You can see the intricate tile work and wooden carving done by the Uzbek artisans of many years ago. Underneath the arch you can also see local men playing ping-pong on their time off from selling souvenirs.
This huge stone structure is actually a book rest. Many years ago this was a mosque where the Koran was read aloud. The Imam would read from here and lead a prayer service. Today this mosque is a museum where tourists can learn about Uzbekistan’s place in the Islamic world.
Uzbekistan is host to many religions. This new Orthodox church was built by the government for the many Christians who live in the capital city of Tashkent. Uzbekistan is secular and is very proud to have hosted the Pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Along with new churches, many new mosques and Jewish synagogues have opened since Uzbekistan gained independence.
This new mosque was being built during my time in Uzbekistan. Construction took over two years. The mosque was the first one to be built in my town in more than 40 years.
Uzbekistan has four distinct seasons and it snows like mad there. I enjoyed the snow and helped make many snowmen with Uzbeks. I also had many snowball fights with my friends. From food to religion, the stimulating cultural complexity of Uzbekistan made my two years there a rich and unique experience. I’m Diego Rivera for the Peace Corps’ Coverdell World Wise Schools program.